Dr. Elena Sweetwater Pyetrov studied the launch area below her in
stunned silence as uniformed officers burst onto the scene, followed by
dozens of men and women in camouflage gear carrying assault rifles. It
looked like a stunt for a Hollywood movie about space invaders.
Members of her ground team scrambled in response to the unannounced
intrusion. It brought back memories of anti-space opposition two decades
earlier to her father’s mission to Jupiter. That ended with his
disappearance and a presumed crash into the Jovian planet.
Beyond the bulletproof glass of the observation deck, a Navy Seal
chopper buzzed the launch pad. The Moon shuttle was being prepared for
tomorrow’s take-off to reunite Elena with her crew on the Moon base.
In the distance, the Atlantic was calm and skies were clear for her
Elena picked up her cell phone to call her benefactor, Mason Crenshaw
Devereaux, the billionaire owner of MCD Enterprises that was financing
her expedition. Static filled the line. Damn.
She used binoculars to watch her ground crew as two uniformed officers
approached them. One of her assistants shifted anxiously with an armful
of last-minute test equipment for the mission. A second checked an
electronic pad and shook her head. Two members of her ground crew made
it to the safety of a hangar with camouflage soldiers in pursuit.
This can’t be happening, Elena thought, not when I’m this close.
Government delays had already put her behind schedule. She had a narrow
window to initiate her six-month journey aboard a brand new, privately
funded MCD spacecraft already stationed on the Moon base. After years of
preparation, she was finally heading to the Jovian moon Europa, part of
her dream to continue her father’s work.
Someone pounded on the control tower’s door. A commanding female voice
called out, “Doctor Pyetrov?”
Elena opened the door to a slender Federal agent who forced a smile as
she stepped into the control room, followed by two beefy marines who
collided on their way in.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Elena asked. “We’ve been
“There’s been a development,” the agent said, straightening up.
She compared an image of Elena on her cell phone to the person before
her and nodded. “You’re wanted in Washington.”
“I was told—”
“My orders are to bring you, in cuffs if necessary.”
Elena looked at the two beefy men. Backing up, she saw all of her ground
crew down below, surrounded by camouflaged soldiers.
“The sooner you come with us, the sooner this can be cleared up,”
the agent said. “Let’s go.”
“Can I at least speak with my team?” Elena held up her cell phone,
which showed no signal.
“That won’t be necessary,” the agent said. “They’ve already
been told. You’re wasting time.”
Not seeing any alternative, Elena chose the non-handcuffed approach.
Again, she tried to phone her benefactor. When that provided nothing
more than electronic static, she grabbed her briefcase, followed the
agent and her marines to the roof of the observation deck, and climbed
into a sleek, new helicopter.
“Are you jamming my signal?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t know,” the agent said. “Buckle up.”
Without waiting for Elena to do so, the agent lifted the chopper and
sped north, throwing Elena back in her seat at what she figured to be
3g, zero-to-sixty in one second.
She fastened her belt. “Now that I’m cooperating, can you tell me
where we’re going and what this is all about?”
“My orders were to deliver you to a congressional committee,” the
agent said. “That’s all I know.”
They landed on the new helipad above the senate offices. The agent and
marines led Elena into a congressional meeting room and to a seat at the
focal point of a semicircular table. It wasn’t her first time in this
chamber. The last visit hadn’t gone well. On that occasion, Devereaux
had intervened. This time she couldn’t reach him.
Elena scanned the annoyed faces of the six women and five men on the
Special Committee Responsible for Alien Programs. She’d encountered
them all before. Evidently, they’d cut short their summer break to
haul her in, either to stall or cancel her privately funded mission. She
needed the government shuttle to reach her ship at the government-run
She sat, clutching a thin briefcase in her lap. When her eyes met the
glance of Chairwoman Senator Christabelle Jorgensen, chills ran up and
down her spine. The senator despised anything having to do with space.
She’d made that clear during her campaign and during their prior
Jorgensen raised her hand, and the room fell silent. “After long
deliberations, we cannot allow your mission to launch.” She sounded
All eyes focused on Elena. She felt the heat of their attention, as well
as the intense lights aimed her way. “Distinguished senators and
representatives…” she began.
“Cut the formalities,” Senator Jorgensen cut in. “We’ve been
sending missions and messages into space for decades. None of it has
improved the lives of desperate people here on Earth.” One of
Jorgensen’s acts upon entering the Senate was shutting down the SETI
project and its search for intelligent signals from space.
Folding her hands on the table, Elena raised her voice a notch. “Just
because we don’t know what we’ll find doesn’t mean we shouldn’t
explore. Columbus sought a trade route to India and opened up the
Americas. Nicholas Navarov found water and key elements on the Moon that
will allow self-sustaining colonies to ease overcrowding on Earth.”
Jorgensen smiled for the hidden cameras. “Really? Your plan is to move
billions of people to the inhospitable environment of the Moon?”
“We could colonize Mars.”
The senator slammed a gavel on her table. “People want to live better
here on Earth. We will no longer waste valuable resources on space
Elena took a deep breath. “Dr. Alexander Pyetrov—”
“The Committee knows your father’s failures, Ms. Pyetrov. If he
hadn’t pursued his folly to Jupiter, you wouldn’t have stood over
his empty casket.”
“He gave his life to further knowledge.” On this matter, Elena had
mixed feelings. When her father missed her sixteenth birthday for his
mission, she’d cursed him to a fate worse than death. With his many
absences, it had been one disappointment too many. Even so, at his
funeral, she’d vowed to fulfill his vision.
She studied the six attractive young women dressed in identical gray
nanofab jackets, sky-blue blouses, and navy skirts. They’d swept into
office in the last election, championing the plight of women and
children saddled with global crop failures. While Elena empathized, she
didn’t believe short-term needs should cancel long-term research.
Senator Jorgensen’s cat-like eyes sliced into Elena. “We would be
better served if you continued your efforts with the Women and
Elena glanced at four men seated to her left, members of the Evangelical
Ministry on Alien Mythologies. They leaned back in their seats, arms
crossed, with scowls on their faces, content to let Jorgensen take the
lead. A wrinkled clerk at the far right made sure recordings picked up
everything Elena said—no doubt to use against her later. She sighed.
“While that work is vital, I believe this mission can improve
“Isn’t it true you expect to find alien life on your mission?”
Elena’s throat tightened. She did hope to discover new species in
space. Perhaps they’d be as bizarre as worms near submerged thermal
vents on Earth, although so far, robotic space probes had been
disappointing. “Learning about new resources will benefit everyone,
and all of the financial risk is borne by—”
“I’ve read your report,” Jorgensen said. “And not all the risk
is private. Your sponsor requires use of our lunar base and our
“For which he paid.”
“Nevertheless. Sometimes science wanders into places that do more harm
than good, like the atomic bomb. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Fire can keep us warm or burn down homes.”
“Why pursue microbes while billions of people on Earth are
starving?” Jorgensen asked.
With the exception of New Mexico Senator Emanuel Montrose to her right,
everyone at the table deferred to Jorgensen. In private, Montrose had
been sympathetic. Now he shrank into his seat as if Jorgensen had power
“Exploration has made important contributions to understanding our
solar system,” Elena said. “Who knows? We might find microbes to
help balance our food needs.”
“People don’t want to eat germs.”
“If we don’t explore,” Elena said, trying a different tack,
“whatever is out there could catch us unaware. Before Columbus, the
Chinese discovered the Americas. Then their emperor died and his
successor turned inward, which allowed the Europeans to dominate.”
“I’m astonished that you champion Columbus, given what Europeans did
to your Navajo ancestors.”
That stung. Elena wished she knew more about that part of her heritage.
“I’m aware of the exploitation of Native-Americans, but if Columbus
hadn’t explored, I wouldn’t be here.”
Several members of the panel broke out laughing. When Jorgensen remained
somber, the room fell silent.
“Our primary concern is how alien mythologies contaminate young
minds,” Jorgensen said. “Isn’t it true that while promoting this
mission, you encouraged speculation about alien life?”
Elena measured her words. “My focus was on funding and approval.”
Jorgensen paused to look at her notes. “Do you believe aliens brought
life to Earth?”
“I believe in God,” Elena said, just not a god who denies the
existence of alien life.
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“I don’t know. Do you?” Elena felt like a prop to political
campaigning. “With all due respect, Senator, our future depends on
Jorgensen waved her hand in dismissal. “Leave us.”
Holding her head high, Elena grabbed her thin briefcase, marched out of
the stuffy chamber, and headed straight for the restroom.
In the mirror, she stared into a weary face with dark eyes. Lines
creased her bronzed forehead. She spotted another gray nestled among her
obsidian-black hair. Each visit to Washington seemed to add more.
Although men said she was attractive, she looked older than her
thirty-four years, thanks to the frustrations of butting heads with
Elena felt exhausted from her preparations and this latest distraction.
This committee could have halted her mission at any point. Why now?
Gritting herself into control, she clutched an ornamental platinum comb
her father gave her before his last mission, and pushed back her
Elena paced outside the committee chambers, longing for time in space,
away from vicious politics and other people’s expectations. Even her
on-and-off-again fiancé, Captain Marc Carlisle, a marine pilot, held
expectations. He had repeatedly pressured her to include him on her
mission. She only had room for her handpicked crew. Besides, Elena was
convinced they wouldn’t survive together in such tight quarters. Their
strained goodbye the night before had left a sour taste in her mouth.
She couldn’t permit entanglements to hold her back.
Chamber doors swung open. Senator Jorgensen emerged, her face betraying
no emotion. The senator offered her hand and squeezed Elena’s in a
Jorgensen’s mouth drew into a tight line. “This mission is a waste
of resources. You know that.”
The senator’s vacant eyes gave Elena chills. “With all due respect,
our future lies out there.”
“Are you prepared for whatever sacrifices this mission calls for?”
Elena’s throat went dry. Suddenly, Jorgensen seemed willing to let the
mission continue after all. The senator led Elena into a room across
from the committee’s chambers and closed the door. She left the lights
off, no doubt to avoid cameras. The darkness made it harder to ignore
the senator’s pungent perfume.
Elena recalled a previous encounter with this scent. About a year ago, a
colleague pressured her to join the secret professional group Sisterhood
of the Nile. Membership bound her to their code. Only later did she
realize what she’d agreed to: a commitment to the Women and
Children’s Taskforce that, while worthy, distracted from her mission.
Withdrawing into the darkness, Elena forced a deep breath and nearly
choked. “What changed your mind?”
“Your single-minded determination.” The senator took Elena’s hand.
Confused, Elena pulled away and bumped into a table. She straightened
up. “I’m committed.”
“One condition. Your mission is limited in scope. You’ll report all
findings directly to me and no one else. Is that clear?”
Elena pressed against the table. “This is a scientific mission.”
“And a commercial one.”
“My sponsors won’t—”
“Then consider yourself grounded.”
“Senator, any commercially viable materials we find would
Jorgensen grabbed Elena in the secret arm grip of the Sisterhood. That
explains the dark room. The group’s support might explain the
senator’s rapid rise in politics and the solidarity of the five women
who rose with her and sat on the Committee.
Was this a charade intended to get Elena to agree to conditions? Well,
sponsors were one thing. Elena had her own reasons for going into space.
She swallowed hard. The Sisterhood’s code obligated Elena to a senior
member like Jorgensen. “I accept.”
The senator moved away. “Go before we reconsider.”
A space cruiser glided high above the Earth, monitoring events unfolding
in the American capital and at a Florida launch pad. Standing before the
wide screen in the command center, General Nurock Gorg tightened her
well-toned stomach muscles and stifled her disgust at the pale human
form Supreme Commander Viv had taken.
The general looked away from the screen before her contempt for non-gray
complexions and smooth foreheads twisted her forehead ridge-crest; to
snub her supreme leader would be suicide and Gorg had a score to settle.
The attempts to ground the human space mission had failed, opening up
opportunities for her. She smiled, hoping that would soften her image
for the supreme commander, and returned her attention to the screen.
“We cannot risk exposure,” Viv said in human-accented Knoonk
language over the secure com-link. She adjusted her camera, which then
showed behind her the brightly colored office in Viv’s Washington
home. The vivid colors stabbed at Gorg’s eyes, an unfortunate
byproduct of inbreeding among a too-small surviving population. Overuse
of color was a human obsession that the Supreme Commander had acquired
as part of her genetic transformation to human form.
Gorg adjusted the command ship’s controls so the craft would appear to
float as satellite debris to the humans’ feeble sensors. She glanced
at her immediate superior, Commander Jinek Zurbiz, whose bloated figure
filled the captain’s chair. Zurbiz was the only person between her and
the supreme commander, a position Gorg coveted.
Zurbiz’s ineptitude had condemned General Gorg’s sister to die on
Earth during a routine recon mission. When Colonel Dwentok Gorg was
wounded and couldn’t reach the extraction point, Commander Zurbiz
refused to risk a rescue mission that could have saved the colonel’s
essence. In fact, to avoid letting humans capture the fallen soldier,
Zurbiz had ordered her body remotely incinerated. Now there could be no
ritual resurrection, no chance for life to continue in a new body. In
her mind, Gorg spat at the flabby target Zurbiz made. You’re a
disgrace to our people.
Seated next to Zurbiz was little Nalon, the faithful sycophant. You
picked the wrong master, Gorg thought.
“I share your disappointment,” Supreme Commander Viv told Gorg. “I
also grieve for your sister, a great Knoonk warrior.” She paused,
leaving only background hum for a moment of remembrance.
Then she turned her human face to Commander Zurbiz. “Where do we stand
on finding the Royal Couple?”
Zurbiz bowed with her ridge-crest at attention across her forehead.
“We have many leads to catch the traitors.”
“You should have caught them by now,” Viv said.
Gorg suppressed a grin. It was another failure by her incompetent boss
and another step closer to Gorg replacing Zurbiz. If the commander
hadn’t been so timid … well, Gorg would handle things differently.
In fact, General Gorg would have caught the Royal Couple twelve years
ago, when the remnant of her Knoonk rebels overpowered the outposts in
this solar system. Zurbiz’s hesitation allowed the Royal Couple to
complete their transformation to human form and escape to Earth to hide
among the inferior species. Despite Zurbiz’s bungling, Supreme
Commander Viv chose her over Gorg to command the outpost.
“I suggest General Gorg take this assignment,” Supreme Commander Viv
The general bowed. She relished the opportunity to exact revenge against
humans for the permanent loss of her sister. As a bonus, she would get
to upstage Zurbiz.
Commander Zurbiz changed the subject. “We are resurrecting our fallen
comrades as quickly as we can.”
Yeah, Gorg thought, the lucky ones killed in our failed rebellion. The
survivors preserved and transported their essences to this outpost at
the edge of the galaxy. They were receiving the ritual resurrection
denied to Gorg’s sister. Never again would she stand side by side with
her kin as Knoonk warriors.
“Not fast enough,” Viv said. “Humans are sending another manned
probe. Use it to our advantage.”
Excerpted from "Xenogeneic: First Contact" by Lance Erlick. Copyright © 2017 by Lance Erlick. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.